Navigating Gift-Giving in the Workplace This Holiday Season

The holidays are fast approaching, a time often associated with merriment and joy, but at the office, gift-giving can be anxiety-inducing for employees and employers, especially if there are no company-wide guidelines or policies in place. According to a 2006 Office Depot survey, working Americans cite holiday gift-giving as a source of stress as they struggle to find the time to shop, worry about breaking the bank and struggle to find meaningful gifts. Compulsory gift exchanges can become uncomfortable when not everyone is putting forth the same effort or if someone feels excluded. All of these can add up to distracted employees with the potential of causing office conflicts or fostering negative workplace cultures.

On the other hand, showing appreciation in the form of gifts can play an important role in fostering a productive and motivated workplace. 94 percent of respondents from an Instaprint survey said that a gift from their employer would make them feel valued. With the right guidelines, recognizing the efforts of employees or co-workers through gift exchanges can foster more collegial working relationships among your team.

Here’s how to avoid getting wrapped up in gift-giving this holiday season:

Set Guidelines

Define who employees can accept gifts from and how much those gifts can be worth. Companies like Encompass Health and Echostar have policies specifying that “modest” gifts from vendors are acceptable. These policies seek to prevent lavish gifts that can potentially sway an employee’s objectivity. Other companies such as CSX have set a monetary value limit. CSX’s gift value limit is $100. Any gifts valued greater than that should be reported to supervisors.

Gift-giving and receiving policies should also include how gifts that violate your policy should be dealt with. If the gift is from a vendor to a specific employee, for example, the gift should be reported to supervisors, who can advise on next steps. If neither are possible, the gift may be shared equally throughout the office. In terms of gift-giving within the office, gifts can simply be given back to the gift giver with a simple explanation of the policy. As much as declining gifts can be awkward, the US Office of Government Ethics suggests that these situations are opportunities to educate on workplace etiquette and communication. 

Rather than doing away with gift-giving completely, try implementing an office Secret Santa, or White Elephant. This allows the company to set a price limit on gift exchanges, in addition to letting employees choose whether or not they want to participate. 

Communicate Clearly

Communicating your policy is paramount. This is to ensure everyone is aware of the policies and feel comfortable approaching HR and their supervisors if they are unsure if they can accept a gift. A study from UHY Advisors found that even though most companies already have a gift-giving policy, almost half of employees say that the policy is ill-defined or hard to understand. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) suggests encouraging employees to “consider the ethical implications before giving and receiving gifts,” as well as the reasons for gift policies such as anti-bribery regulations. A comprehensive summary sent via email before the holiday season or a quick presentation preceding a company meeting can go a long way to curb potential confusion and conflicts. 

When enacting new guidelines, don’t forget to train your HR team regarding the updates. This should include information on how to enforce the policy as well as clearly outlining guidelines around costs, clients, vendors and what kinds of gifts are not permitted to be given/received in your workplace. This should also include how employees and their supervisors report gifts that violate the policy to HR and the process that follows.